Washington Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy took a nontraditional route to the NHL, but now that he’s there, he isn’t holding back any punches. The Michigan native is currently excelling in defense, offense and glove dropping.
The 27-year-old has traveled the country, plying his trade in various minor league venues since 2006 before finding himself with the Caps feeder team (the Hershey Bears) for the 2012-13 season. During that season, Oleksy signed a three-year two-way contract with the Capitals. He hasn’t looked back.
Oleksy’s unique arrival to the NHL is an example to any player in his mid-20s playing at any level on the hockey pyramid. He’s proven that you don’t have to be a hotshot college kid or a first round draft pick to achieve a successful NHL status as a professional.
On Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Oleksy produced one of the finest primary assists on a Caps’ goal in recent memory. A deft curl-and-drag move that evaded blueliner Cam Atkinson was followed by a fierce wrister and a rebound, which Brooks Laich was more than happy to convert.
“I kind of waited and let him [Atkinson] make the first move,” said Oleksy on Saturday. “I was just trying to get around him and I knew we had good traffic in front so I just wanted to make sure I got it through to the net and Brooksie did a great job sliding it home.”
Oleksy has three assists on the season so far, and they’ve all come on even strength. That’s a big stat on a team that was lacking on even-strength scoring this term in the early games. He’s not an offensively minded D-man who’s out there on the power play (like Mike Green), but he’s more than capable of showing some skillful moves when he finds space in the opposition’s zone.
“That one surprised me,” Caps’ coach Adam Oates said of Oleksy’s highlight reel move against Columbus. “I was a little panicky for a second, but great play. I’m glad. He’s a guy that—from where he came from last year—has done nothing but continually improve.”
In his current role, Oleksy is maturing with every minute he’s on the ice. He’s not afraid to drop the gloves either as illustrated by his dance with Blue Jacket Brandon Dubinsky. The fight started out with them hugging each other like long lost pals, but it progressed into an exchange of right hooks — one of which Oleksy took at 100 percent. However, he stayed on his feet and looked genuinely surprised when the referee stopped the fight with both players still upright. He wanted more.
This will be a breakout season for the big Capitals’ big D-man. It will be his best campaign at any level — and he’s played at many levels.